The world’s richest man was blasted into space on his own rocket Tuesday morning with his brother, an octogenarian aviation pioneer, and a Dutch teen who graduated high school last year.
Amazon founder and Washington Post owner Jeff Bezos lifted off at 9:11 a.m. ET alongside his younger brother (and volunteer firefighter) Mark, 82-year-old aerospace legend Wally Funk—who trained as an astronaut in the 1960s but never left Earth—and 18-year-old Oliver Daemen of the Netherlands, a paying customer who was a last-minute replacement for an unnamed auction winner that bid $28 million to be on the flight but begged off at the last minute over a scheduling conflict.
“Best day ever,” Bezos declared when the crew landed back on Earth about 10 minutes after takeoff.
The foursome traveled aboard New Shepard, a suborbital rocket operated by another of Bezos’ companies, Blue Origin. (The cost of Daemen’s ticket, which was picked up by his father, a private equity executive, has not been revealed.)
The craft is named for Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard, the first American to reach space. It took off from Blue Origin’s Launch Site One near the tiny West Texas town of Van Horn, traveling more than 60 miles in the air. This morning’s flight marked the reusable spacecraft’s third trip.
The mission, which Blue Origin dubbed NS-16, was the company’s first manned launch, and Funk and Daemen are now the oldest and youngest people ever to travel to space, respectively. Bezos will have to settle for being only the second billionaire in space, after Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson went there and back on his own company’s rocket-plane earlier this month.
The New Shepard capsule is fully autonomous, and was not carrying a trained pilot on its flight. None of the four passengers were wearing traditional spacesuits, which Bezos called “redundant,” since the New Shepard’s cabin is pressurized.
Blue Origin expects to follow Tuesday’s successful launch with two more human spaceflights before the end of 2021, more than half a dozen in 2022, and would like to one day launch a crewed flight every two weeks or so, according to company CEO Bob Smith.
Gary Lai, senior director of the New Shepard design unit, told The Washington Post that the team’s goal was to build a spacecraft that they would trust with their children aboard.
“Our standard is to fly anybody for a space tourism mission and for them not actually to take any substantive risk,” Lai said.
Space travel, for now, is only for the extraordinarily wealthy. Japanese billionaire entrepreneur Yusaku Maezawa is scheduled to orbit the Moon in 2023 aboard a rocket flown by SpaceX, the company owned by Elon Musk. In September, American tech billionaire Jared Isaacman will embark on a three-day Earth orbit on a SpaceX craft. However, Bezos has said he envisions a time in the not-too-distant future when “millions of people are living and working in space.”